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TNDP Executive Director Leaving in Search of ‘New Opportunities’

Statement from Roy Herron, Chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party; September 9, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron released a statement Monday thanking outgoing party Executive Director Kevin Teets for his service and leadership on Jackson Day:

“Having just led the Tennessee Democratic Party to its most successful Jackson Day in years, Executive Director Kevin Teets is leaving the state Democratic Party to pursue new opportunities. Kevin led the efforts that doubled the gross and quintupled the amount raised at Jackson Day each of the last two years. That $350,000 will help elect Democrats, and I’m personally grateful for the incredible job Kevin did in leading our team. Kevin’s hard work made it possible for Sen. Tim Kaine and our dynamic Democratic mayors to energize Democrats statewide and for us to honor Congressman Cooper for all his years of service to the state. We wish Kevin well in all of his future endeavors.”

TNDP: GOP U.S. Senate Primary will Feature ‘Extremism, Intolerance’

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; August 20, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron issued a statement Tuesday saying the Primary for U.S. Senate between incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander and State Rep. Joe Carr will place Republican extremism and intolerance center stage:

“This Republican Senate Primary will be a race to the bottom of fear and hate. Women and children, workers and the middle class, have much to fear from these two candidates and much to hate about their records.

“In Washington, Senator Alexander voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In Nashville, Representative Carr voted to strip women of any state constitutional right to choose, not even to save their own lives.

“In Washington, Alexander wants to eliminate the minimum wage. In Nashville, Carr voted against fairly compensating those too injured to work.

“In Washington, Alexander voted for budget-busting tax breaks for billionaires and big oil. In Nashville, Carr abolished inheritance taxes for billionaires and denied college scholarships for the middle class and working poor.”

TN GOP: Democrats Hit ‘New Low’ With Recent Losses

Press release from the Tennessee Republican Party; April 1, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For 150 years, the Tennessee Democratic Party controlled every level of political office in Tennessee. Over the last few years, though, Tennesseans have continually rejected their liberal views driving the Democrats into superminority status across the state.

Last week, a new low was hit by the Democrats as the Party suffered setbacks on key policy and political fronts.

  • Representative Gloria Johnson’s (D—Knoxville) personal privilege bill, House Bill 1301, failed for lack of a second. Johnson, an educator by trade, had been pushing a mandate on local governments to grant leaves of absence—a change to the law that she would personally benefit from.
  • House Bill 898, once amended, would remake the Democratic Party and remove accountability from voters. It was forced to be taken off notice by Republicans who would have no part in such a move.
  • Perhaps most galling to the Democrats’ big government agenda, Governor Bill Haslam said “no to Tennessee Medicaid Expansion”. The move spurned the wishes of Tennessee Democrats who were hoping to see the Governor take part in a broken system.

Democrats were particularly pointed in their comments following the Governor’s announcement. For example:

  • “This is a time when the people of Tennessee need clear, precise and bold leadership, and Governor Haslam offered none of that today.”—Rep. Mike Turner (D—Old Hickory)
  • “Instead we’ve seen more of the hand-wringing and delayed action that we’ve become accustomed to. Lives will be lost while we wait for a real decision.”—House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D—Ripley)
  • “Tennessee should choose science instead of selfishness, people instead of politics, life instead of death.”—TNDP Chairman, Roy Herron

Democratic carping surprised many observers, particularly from the three individuals above, who all played important roles in the 2005 TennCare cuts that booted 170,000 Tennesseans from the health care rolls. Apparently, the arguments used now for political purposes to slam the Governor did not carry much weight then.

Fitzhugh championed the cuts in the Legislature: He was the first cosponsor of the 2005 appropriations bill that removed the funding for TennCare and provided an important vote as a top-ranking Democrat. Herron followed suit in the Senate, unmoved by his own “pro-life” beliefs. Turner was so moved by his belief in leadership, in 2005, he voted present.

Presented with all this information, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party Chris Devaney, stated, “Democrats have sunk to new lows in their attempts to maintain some form of relevancy. Just when you think they’ve hit rock bottom, a new depth of despair is achieved.”

Herron: Medicaid Rejection Not ‘Pro-Life’ Decision

Statement from the Tennessee Democratic Party; March 27, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron issued a statement Wednesday in response to Governor Bill Haslam’s rejection of federal funding to expand Medicaid.

“Deuteronomy 30 urges us to ‘choose life,’ but self-proclaimed ‘pro-life’ Republicans applauded the governor denying health insurance to 300,000 Tennesseans in working families, even though that means each week another parent, another child, another loved one — or two — will die,” Herron said. “Reactionary and radical Republicans should never again call themselves ‘pro-life,’ not while condemning working Tennesseans without health insurance to die.”

In 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine reported in an article called “Mortality and Access to Care among Adults after State Medicaid Expansions” that lives can be saved by expanding Medicaid.

“Tennessee should choose science instead of selfishness, people instead of politics, life instead of death,” Herron said.

New TNDP Boss Challenges GOP Supermajority to ‘Prove They’re Pro-Life’

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; February 5, 2013:

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron issued the following the statement after Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today that Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kate O’Day has resigned from her post:

“As a former chairman of the now-abolished Select Committee on Children and Youth, I saw the Republicans eliminate that legislative oversight which protected Tennessee’s children. Far too many children have suffered and died, and it’s past time for Republicans to prove they’re pro-life after birth by protecting Tennessee’s children.”

DCS has been sued by The Tennessean, The Associated Press and 10 other news organizations to obtain case records of 151 children who died between January 2009 and July 2012 and had been the subject of state investigations of abuse or neglect.

McCormick: Lawmakers’ Travel Rules Need Changing

Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for lame-duck lawmakers taking out-of-state trips, says House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick.

But he won’t ask outgoing legislators who traveled to Chicago this week for the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual summit to pay the bill themselves, he told reporters Thursday. The lawmakers are either retiring or have been booted by voters in the primary but still chose to take the publicly-funded trip, TNReport revealed Tuesday.

“I think the rules ought to be changed in the future, though,” McCormick said, although he didn’t say whether he would spearhead revising the practice.

“They’re on the way out. They’re not going to have much time to use their experience to benefit the taxpayers and their constituents,” he said. “But the ones that are there now, they did it under the old rules.”

When asked why the rule hadn’t been changed in the two years Republicans have been running the chamber, he said he “just wasn’t thinking.”

“If I lose a primary two years from now, I will not be going on trips,” he told reporters.

House Speaker Beth Harwell said she allows legislators to be reimbursed for one out-of-state legislative trip per year, and she has no problem sending retiring and outgoing lawmakers to the conference if that is the one they choose to go to.

“I don’t think in any way it was an attempt to misuse the system,” she told TNReport. “That was their one trip, and so that was decided many months ago by my staff. So, I’ll respect their decision as legislators that that’s they way they chose to use their legislative trip.”

The House and Senate speakers gave four retiring lawmakers the green light to get reimbursed for the trip, which could cost as much as $2,500 in registration, airfare, hotel stay, per diem and cab rides.

Those lawmakers are Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington. Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, was also approved to go on the trip, but said he decided against it after family emergency.

Both House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, were in attendance at the conference, according to legislative staff, although both had lost their bids for re-election less than a week before in the primary.

Outgoing lawmakers can collect payments such as per diem and travel benefits up to the day before the November election. The state constitution outlines that members belong to the Legislature beginning the day they win the general election, and thus stop earning any compensation the close of day the on the eve of the election, said Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs.

Retiring, Defeated Lawmakers on Taxpayer-Funded Getaway

Updated Aug. 7, 2012: Sen. Roy Herron called and said he had planned to attend the conference but decided against it due to a family emergency.

Six Tennessee legislators leaving the General Assembly this year are expected in Chicago this week on what could amount to a taxpayer-funded junket.

Four retiring legislators and two state reps who lost their bids for re-election in last week’s primary have given the state notice they plan to get reimbursed for attending the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in the Windy City that began Monday, a trip that could cost as much as than $2,500 in registration, airfare, hotel stay, per diem and cab rides.

They are Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, who lost their primaries, and retiring lawmakers Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.

One of the General Assembly’s highest-ranking Republicans says he trusts that the departing lawmakers have good reasons behind their decisions to make the trip.

“I know it will be beneficial to the others who attend to get the benefit of their wisdom and their years of service,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. “I think discretion is the better part of valor with these things, and obviously they’ve exercised their discretion and think it’s fine to go. I’m not passing judgment on it.”

Legislators are permitted to let taxpayers foot the bill for out-of-state legislative trips, complete with a per diem, travel and lodging expenses. Even outgoing lawmakers are entitled, said Connie Ridley, director of Tennessee’s office of Legislative Affairs.

“Members of the General Assembly serve as a legislator until the general election in November,” Ridley said in an email. “They are no longer eligible for compensation of any form the evening before the November general election.”

Richardson says she may have lost her primary election, but she still has legislative responsibilities to handle at the conference.

“I signed up because I am one of the representatives, there’s just a couple of us, who represent Tennessee on the Health Committee,” she said. “These are working committees where we share what we’ve done, and find out what other states have done and make policy recommendations for states. So, because I represent Tennessee on the health committee, I still need to come to the meeting.”

Attempts to reach Montgomery for comment were unsuccessful.

A handful of retiring lawmakers are also on the trip, including Naifeh and Faulk, according to their offices. Herron and Harmon’s offices did not respond to requests for comment.

Legislators can collect a $173 per diem each of the four days of the conference, for $692 total. Registration to the NCSL event ranges from $549 to $690, depending on when lawmakers registered for the conference online. Guests were encouraged to reserve rooms in downtown Chicago with rates ranging from $199 to $227 a night if locked in prior to Aug. 1. Lawmakers can also be reimbursed for airfare, which runs about $300 roundtrip, and cab rides, which average between $25 to $42 from the airport to the convention site.

If lawmakers decide against splitting hotels and cab fare, the cost to taxpayers could approach almost $2,500 for the four-day, three-night trip.

But no money has left the taxpayers’ pocket yet, Ridley said. Lawmakers will have to submit receipts to have their travel expenses paid for once they return, although the conference’s registration will be billed directly to the state.

While the practice is legal and learning how other state legislatures are tackling difficult policy issues is valuable, sending outgoing lawmakers on an out-of-town trip is still “questionable,” said Dick Williams, chairman of Tennessee Common Cause, a government accountability advocacy group.

“I have mixed feelings about the appropriateness of those going who will not be coming back, whether by the election or their own choice,” he said. “If they’re going to continue to do something in public life, they could make good public use of that.”

Here are the other 22 lawmakers slated to attend, according to the office of Legislative Administration:

House of Representatives

Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge

Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis

Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis

Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley

Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville

Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge

Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville

House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar

Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna

Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville

Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis

Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory

Senate

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville

Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis

Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis

Sen. Steve Sutherland, R-Morristown

Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson

Haslam’s First Veto to Strike Down Challenge to Vanderbilt’s Discrimination Policy

A bill that would have required all public universities — and Vanderbilt University because of the level of government money it accepts —  to allow student campus organizations to control their own membership qualifications has prompted Gov. Bill Haslam to announce he’ll use his first veto.

The legislation came as a response to Vanderbilt’s administration adopting a policy requiring that student groups accept “all comers” into their membership and leadership, regardless whether they share the same philosophical views as the organization. The policy has driven more than a dozen clubs off campus for refusing to abide by the policy for fear that people would join religious groups without sharing their beliefs.

“I don’t agree with Vanderbilt’s ‘all-comers’ policy. It is counter-intuitive to make campus organizations open their membership and leadership positions to anyone and everyone, even when potential members philosophically disagree with the core values and beliefs of the organization,” said Haslam in a statement the day after the Legislature adjourned for the year.

The governor said he was on board with House Bill 3576 when it applied only to public schools supported by taxpayer funds. But he said lawmakers went too far when they decided to extend the restrictions to Vanderbilt, a private university that accepts millions of dollars to provide medical care to low-income and uninsured patients through its health facilities.

“Although I disagree with Vanderbilt’s policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution. Therefore, I will veto HB 3576/SB 3597 in its current form,” he said.

The governor’s veto holds marginal veto power in Tennessee. The General Assembly need only a majority vote to override his veto, but that’s assuming lawmakers want to reassemble on Capitol Hill to override him, which is unlikely.

Late in the legislative session, lawmakers added a provision that would include Vanderbilt University in addition to public schools in allowing student clubs to dictate membership. It says:

“No state higher education institution that grants recognition to any student organization shall discriminate against or deny recognition to a student organization, or deny to a student organization access to programs, funding, or facilities otherwise available to another student organization, on the basis of… the religious content of the organization’s speech including but not limited to, worship.”

The legislation also added that “a religious student organization may determine that the organization’s religious mission requires that only persons professing the faith of the group and comporting themselves in conformity with it qualify to serve as members or leaders.”

“Our intent is to make sure that religious organizations, student religious organizations are not held to a rule they do not hold other student organizations to. In other words, they have told the student religious organizations that you have to accept everyone whether or not they hold your beliefs or not ” said Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet. “Not only do you have to accept them, but you have to put them in leadership position if they want to be in leadership position.”

Both retiring Sens. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, and Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, pulled the small government card on Beavers shortly before the bill passed the Senate 19-12-2 Monday. The House later passed the bill 61-22-1.

“I don’t know that I think big government coming in and running private institutions is what people in my district want. I know this much, it’s not conservative and it’s not getting government out of people’s lives,” said Herron.

The governor also said he is refusing to endorse a bill that would limit the number of foreign nationals a charter school can hire to teach. Instead, he will let the bill become law without his signature and is asking the attorney general to weigh in on the legislation’s constitutionality.

Effort to Expel Tent-Dwellers from TN Statehouse Plaza Passes Senate

A bill requiring that Occupy Nashville protesters break camp on War Memorial Plaza passed the Senate Thursday, 21 to 9. The legislation is in need now of only one more formalizing vote in the House before heading to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam.

Known as the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012, the proposed new law states that camping will be prohibited on any state-owned public property not designated as a campground. It also defines camping as erecting any temporary structure, or laying down bedding materials for the purposes of sleeping.

An amendment on the bill also states that “camping” includes cooking activities and storing of personal belongings, as well as engaging in digging.

Some lawmakers believe the measure’s language is too open-ended.

Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who said he originally expected to vote for the bill, argued against the bill, saying its language is too broad and subject to on-the-spot interpretation. It might cause a law-abiding citizen — like, for example, a hunter in a duck blind warming up some food to eat on public lands — to unintentionally commit a crime, he said.

Other critics voiced disapproval of the bill on grounds that it restricts the fundamental right to assemble for peaceful protest.

“If it were not for protest in this country, we would not have had a civil rights movement, we would not have had people have the opportunity to gain the rights that should have always been afforded to them, the Vietnam War might still be going on if it weren’t for a certain number of protesters,” said Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis.

Two other Memphis Democrats, Jim Kyle and Ophelia Ford, expressed similar views. “I would just like to briefly remind everyone in this senate, that this country was created out of civil unrest,” Kyle said. “And I would only say to you that if the government silences civil unrest, it’ll find itself with uncivil unrest.”

Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, also opposed the bill and suggested that creating a regulation, instead of writing a law to deal with this problem, is preferable.

“If you put this into statute, and something comes up – times change, situations change – it takes another public act to amend it,” Henry said, and explained that a regulation is easier to remove or change than a law.

Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, sponsor of the legislation, defended the bill, saying it has nothing to do with limiting constitutionally protected freedoms. The only intent is to help ensure public land “be managed responsibly for everyone,” she said.

Although the Senate conformed to the House Bill, HB 2638, it also amended the bill to incorporate a severability clause. Even though the substance of the bill wasn’t changed Thursday from the House’s version passed earlier this month by a wide margin, the bill now needs one more vote of approval from the House.

After it goes to Gov. Haslam and he signs it, Ramsey said he expects that there will be a short grace-period to allow anyone still camped out on the plaza time to remove themselves and their belongings.

“We want to be reasonable about this — to give some warning to the people that are permanently camped on the legislative plaza, to say you have a week, 10 days, whatever the administration decides, to get off or you will be removed,” said Ramsey. “I think that’s being very reasonable.”

Senate Delays Economic Development Disclosure Bill

A legislative effort to prevent the public from seeing certain information state government wants to collect from businesses seeking millions in Tennessee taxpayer-financed handouts got bogged down Monday night amid concerns over the bill’s scope.

Lawmakers on the floor of the Tennessee Senate debated for about half an hour whether the Department of Economic and Community Development should require businesses to submit more information — like company ownership, financial statements and cash flow reports.

The sticking point arose over the bill’s assurances that the extra disclosure requirements wouldn’t be disclosed to the public.

“Quite frankly, it seems to me irresponsible,” said Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, adding that the measure creates a “secret cloak” to shroud information that ought not be hidden.

“It’s hard for me to believe that we don’t know, that ECD doesn’t know — and that others who ask questions can’t know right now — who owns these companies when we’re proposing to give tax dollars to them,” Herron said.

The measure’s sponsor agreed Monday to delay the bill while the Haslam administration, which is pushing the legislation, attempts to address Herron’s chief complaint that the measure would keep secret the names of people who own businesses winning grants. “The idea that we’re hiding something that is currently public is misleading,” said Sen. Bo Watson, a Hixson Republican.

The company details, which are not currently collected, would be used for “due diligence” investigations by ECD as part of a process to award up to $70 million in FastTrack development grants outlined in the governor’s 2013 fiscal year budget plan, in addition to other tax incentives and government-funded inducements to private business.

The amount constitutes a dramatic expansion in the taxpayer-funded program for businesses. Since 2006, the state has allotted $38.5 million annually, on average, for the FastTrack program.

The measure has so far earned all yes votes in both House and Senate committees. It is up for a vote in the House Commerce Committee Tuesday and on the Senate floor again Thursday.